UC Davis Health | May 1, 2019

Wednesday, May 1st, 2019

Can horses bring healing for dementia patients and their caregivers?

UC Davis study examines connection through activities with horses

For Carolyn Leigh, it reconnected her with her husband, John, whose progressive dementia had begun to unravel their relationship. For Richard Allen Driver, diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, it reawakened a childhood memory and gave him hope. And for Paula Calvert and her father, dementia patient John Irwin, it was just what the doctor ordered.

“It becomes healing,” said Calvert. “I’d do it every day if I could.”

These people were brought together by Connected Horse, a nonprofit organization partnering with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and Center for Equine Health and the Alzheimer’s Disease Center. Together, they are studying the effects of participation in activities with horses on people with dementia and their caregivers.

Connected Horse marries dementia expertise with a love of horses

Connected Horse was founded in 2015 by Nancy Schier Anzelmo and Paula Hertel, both horse lovers and professionals in the fields of senior and dementia care and gerontology, which is the study of aging and the problems of older people. Their nonprofit is committed to the belief that horses and horse activities can provide humans with valuable insights into the human healing process and purpose.

“Equine therapy has helped so many other populations,” said Schier Anzelmo. “Why couldn’t it help people with dementia and their caregivers?” The concept made sense to Claudia Sonder, a veterinarian at the Center for Equine Health.

“We are meeting a societal need,” she said. “We can collaborate and try to create a program where horses would have relevance in today’s society. It’s been a beautiful thing to watch.”

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